With just three days left until their first preseason game, the 49ers’ practice at Kezar Stadium was more of a showcase for the Faithful in attendance than a sign of what to expect against the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Although the 49ers released an unofficial depth chart on Tuesday night in advance of Sunday’s tilt with Houston, Wednesday’s practice saw a variety of players being rotated between the first and second teams.
With no clear answer at a variety of positional battles, the depth chart will likely remain a very fluid situation during the following weeks leading up to the September 12th opener in Santa Clara.
This is especially true at the quarterback position, where Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick continue to evenly split reps during practices.
With both quarterback failing to assert themselves during team drills, Kelly remained noncommittal towards naming a starter for Sunday’s game:
“We have a big week. You can say, ‘Hey, this guy is going to start,’ and then he sprains his ankle in Friday’s practice and then you’ve got to reevaluate. So, we’ll wait until after Houston’s practice to evaluate everybody at every position because you don’t know where you’re going to be until you get there.”
However, the mystery surrounding who will be under center for the 49ers season opener against the Los Angeles Rams will be far from being settled regardless of who starts against Houston on Sunday.
That question may linger until at least August 26-when the 49ers face the Green Bay Packers in their third preseason game-as Kelly stated that he wanted to give both of the potential starters a chance to gain first-team reps in a game setting before making his decision on who will open up the season as the lead signal-caller.
“I have no idea who’s going to be injured or not or whatever. So, not into predictions. But, to make a fair evaluation, they have to both get reps with the ones.”
Both potential starters had a lackluster performance in front of the Kezar Stadium crowd on Wednesday, with the defense coming up with a number of deflections and near-interceptions on both Gabbert and Kaepernick.
Other question marks remain for the 49ers as well.
Crucial position battles include finding a No. 2 receiver to lineup opposite receiver Torrey Smith, which young talent will emerge to line up alongside linebacker NaVorro Bowman and who will take the slot corner job vacated by defensive back Jimmie Ward.
However, while the offensive line has maintained a consistent first-team unit throughout training camp, one not-so-unforeseeable change will likely be the appointment of right tackle Anthony Davis into the starting unit prior to the start of the season.
The former first-round pick has looked liked he’s barely skipped a beat since returning to the league after a one-year hiatus. And after getting both his mind and body ready for the 2016 season, Davis’ ability to contribute along the line has not gone unnoticed by Kelly.
“I’ve just been very, very impressed with him in everything he’s done since we’ve been back. How he’s been in the weight room, how he’s been in the meeting rooms with coach Flats [Pat Flaherty] and what he’s like in walk-thrus, what he’s like on the practice field. He’s all about football. He’s all about getting better. He’s all about improving. He’s been fantastic so far. So, we’ll continue to grow with him, but I’m really impressed with him so far.”
Davis, who started out camp taking third-team reps, has already climbed the depth chart to gain consistent time with the second string offensive line.
And while the demotion may be unfamiliar territory for the 26-year old who has started all 71 games that he’s appeared in, Davis stated that he’s still working hard to regain his starting position.
“It’s hard work to get back to playing better than I was playing when I left. It takes a lot of attention to detail, just staying after it and thinking about it all the time, and cutting distractions. I pretty much started from the ground up. I’m building pretty fast.”
Sunday’s test against Texas will be a welcomed change of scenery for a 49ers group who has only had their own teammates to hit since the start of training camp. But with a number of positional battles that are too close to call, don’t expect Kelly to tip his regular-season hand this early.
Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.